I’ve been thinking about prayer lately and would be interested in other’s ideas about some questions that have been part of that thinking. Specifically these question have to do with the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:5-15; Luke 7:1-4; 3 Nephi 13:5-14). Here are the verses in question (from Matthew, the longest version, with the differences from the version in Alma marked by underline), each verse followed by a few questions for thought.
I’m interested in your thoughts on my questions as well as your own questions.
5 And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.
What kinds of things do we do today that are like praying standing in the synagogues or on street corners? Is the key phrase “that they may be seen of men”? That seems to be the problem with their prayers. If so, what kinds of prayers today are, in general, more likely to be those kinds of prayers?
Given President Kimball’s request to change “be” to “do” in “I am a Child of God,” it is interesting that Joseph Smith changed “be” to “do” here. But being something seems more fundamental than doing (though being something always implies doing particular things). What are we to make of these changes?
6 But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.
Why this emphasis on private prayer? Given this emphasis, how are public prayers justified?
7 But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking [babblings].
The specific vain repetitions that Christ has in mind are those of the heathen. I find it interesting that he does not here speak of the vain repetitions of the hypocrites among the believers. Having just mentioned them in verse 5, they are obviously available for the comparison, so it seems significant that he singles out the heathen instead. I wonder why.
8 Be not ye therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him.
The argument of verses 7-8 looks like this: don’t say long, repetitious prayers because your Father in Heaven already knows what you need. On the face of it, that seems like a non sequitur. What implicit assumptions make it a sound argument?
9 After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. 10 Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.
We teach our children that they should begin prayers by addressing the Father and then expressing their thanks. But the Lord’s prayer begins with an address and then praise. Why do we generally omit praise from our prayers? Or is thanksgiving a kind of praise? Even if it is, ought we not to consider also including other kinds of praise?
The standard LDS explanation for why the underlined part of verse 10 isn’t included in the 3 Nephi version of the prayer is that the Lord had already come when he taught the prayer to those in the New World. But that interpretation seems weak to me. After all, the coming of the Kingdom in full has yet to occur. Are there other plausible explanations for the omission?
11 Give us this day our daily bread.
Why does the 3 Nephi version of the prayer omit this? An answer to that question might also be an answer to the question about verse 10.
12 And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.
The prayer closes with praise, raising the same that verse 9 raised.
14 For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: 15 But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
The only part of the prayer on which Jesus comments after having given the model for prayer is the necessity of forgiving others if we are to be forgiven. Why does he single out that particular part of the prayer for comment?